Possible Facebook Commenting Change Worries Pharma Marketers

An anticipated change to Facebook Page commenting has some advertisers – particularly pharma marketers – worried.

Facebook appears to be planning to prevent administrators from disabling comments on Pages, the platform used by all sorts of brand advertisers.

“We were trying to get a page whitelisted, and Facebook said we would not be able to white list it because of the fact that they’re going through this policy change now,” said Matthew Snodgrass, group director of social media at WCG, an agency that handles biotech and pharmaceutical marketing and communications.

He said he was told by his contacts at Facebook that the company will alter its comment policy, no longer allowing advertisers to disable comments on pages. Advertisers that currently disable comments for things like walls, photos, and videos on their Facebook pages would have them re-enabled if the policy were to go into effect.

“A lot of pharma companies want to be in social media, but they do with the assurance of knowing they can disable comments,” said Snodgrass, adding that the potential Facebook changes, “may push a lot of them to not create a page.”

A Facebook spokesperson said the firm would not confirm the potential change. “As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on rumors,” said the spokesperson.

“We raised a few…considerations for making a decision to disable comments on pages and the effect that would have for pharmaceuticals,” said Snodgrass, who said he discussed possible loopholes for pharma companies that could ease their concerns.

“We partner with [Facebook] quite often in some of the mechanics of Facebook…and we want to continue to do that by way of raising these considerations,” he continued. “Mind you, there may be tweaks to how it actually will be implemented.”

Snodgrass said that as of last week, Facebook was considering keeping intact comment disabling for certain types of pages, such as those that promote, discuss, or support prescription drugs or devices, or pages that focus on a disease state with only one prescribed treatment. Snodgrass posted about the situation to the WCG blog last week.

Other sorts of pharma brand pages such as non-branded pages dedicated to a disease awareness day could still be beholden to the potential Facebook changes.

The anticipated commenting changes could have a greater impact on highly regulated industries such as pharma and financial services. Pharma marketers, for example, must report adverse effects of their drugs, so if someone posts a comment about an adverse effect on a Facebook page, the company is responsible to report that to the Food and Drug Administration. Also, some closely monitor online conversations about their drugs and products to ensure that incorrect or off-label information is removed. Many simply disable comments to prevent additional consumer posts subject to FDA oversight.

“At the core of the issue is mentions of a drug name…adverse events,” said Snodgrass. Pharma marketers “by and large are not equipped with the resources to do the level of that breadth of monitoring.” Snodgrass suggested that financial advertisers also could “encounter many of the same issues.”

The FDA has yet to determine official guidelines for pharma brands operating in digital media, so pharma marketers tend to be extremely cautious in their decision making about how to use things like online advertising and Facebook pages.

Snodgrass said he believes Facebook will work with pharma marketers to develop a policy that does not completely alienate them from using the platform. “I don’t think Facebook wants to do this in a vacuum,” he said.

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